NBA 2K18, and How Microtransactions Lost a Customer

Sports video games have the reputation of being little more than roster updates and a couple new features on an annual basis. NBA 2K18 decided to break from this mold in a new and horrifying way — by completely breaking its virtual currency system and stacking the deck against its own players.

This isn’t a new development; the 2K series has been drifting in this generation for years now. The difference is in the details, specifically 18’s new Road to 99 emphasis and how it has scaled back the ways to get VC to upgrade your player.

Let’s break it down with bullet points because they’re more scientific and you know that’s true:

  • There are three versions of this year’s game: the standard edition ($59.99), the Legend edition ($99.99) and the Gold edition ($149.99). Each came with different items for preordering, and the fancier versions have both physical and in-game benefits as well as their own unique cover. Here’s the problem: you get 100,000 VC with Legend and 250,000 VC with Gold. The standard edition? That’s 5,000 VC, with is barely enough to wipe my virtual ass.
  • Customization items in MyCareer have been inflated to exorbitant prices, an artificial economy so bad that the developers are already promising changes. When 2K18 released, items like shoes and haircuts (which you could neither preview nor keep permanently once you purchased them) cost hundreds or thousands of VC. A standard game of 2K is probably going to net you somewhere in the neighborhood of 500-600 VC. And of course, those are merely cosmetic changes — you still need VC to keep upgrading your player, and that gets more expensive the higher your ranking goes.
  • The companion app for the game is back, but it too has scaled back your VC earning potential. MyNBA2K18 gives you 100 VC for each day you log in, and you can earn an additional 500 VC by playing 10 quick games on the app. That’s not terrible, but it pales in comparison to last year’s version. Previously, you could also choose three cards per day with varying amounts of VC, which would double if you match three amounts, adding anywhere from 300 to 1,500 VC. (That used to be 300 to 3,000 in the 2K16 app two years ago, but let’s not get into that right now.)
  • There is no longer any scaling for difficulty in MyCareer games. Once upon a time you could get multipliers for completing contests at All-Star, Superstar or Hall of Fame levels. That’s gone now. But here’s the good(?) news: once you slog your way to a 95 overall rating (more on that below), you get double the coins!

Let’s say you decided you want to spend three times as much on a video game, or you really loved Shaq, and you decided to preorder the Gold edition of the game. That 250,000 VC means you can take your player from a rating in the low 60s to around 85 overall. And that’s with a $150 edition! It would take hundreds of games to get just to that level.

Now I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be any grinding on the Road to 99. The series has always done a decent job at incentivizing players to play more games and earn more rewards and stats and gear. But the problem is that MyCareer is a single-player endeavor linked with online capabilities. Even if you have zero interest in playing online against other players, you’re stuck — if you play offline, you miss out on a ton of content like cutscenes and in-game messages.

This is frustrating because NBA 2K18 is phenomenal from tipoff to the final buzzer. The gameplay and graphics are smoother than ever, and they’ve cleaned up the animation system to prevent getting stuck in moves that run your player out of bounds or into a bad shot in traffic. Unfortunately, too many game modes are bogged down by VC, meaning that the main vehicle that gets you from game to game feels terrible. Those who are only interested in Play Now or MyGM won’t be affected by this, but the lion’s share of players spend time building their avatars to be NBA superstars.

It’s unlikely that this is going to stop. Companies are making tons of money off of microtransactions, so unless player feedback is loud enough to get the attention of executives with dollar signs for eyes, this trend is going nowhere. There are games that utilize this in much less offensive ways, particularly those that change the way a character looks without having any impact on gameplay. 2K18 has somehow managed to destroy its own balance by letting players pay to win AND jack up the price of appearance changes. It’s a fucking joke.

I read an ill-formed argument that said “well, sometimes in life you have to pay more to get more out of the experience, and it’s not like you have to pay extra, so stop complaining.” As someone who has supported this series for a decade, I have no interest in slogging through hundreds of games with a player in the 60s to become decent, and I’m sure as hell not going to pay to bypass it. Even role players in the NBA are ranked in the 70s, so that starting point is pathetic. So NBA 2K18 isn’t getting any money from me, despite the fact that it’s a series I love and play for dozens of hours each year. There may be too many people pouring money into VC for them to notice one dude withholding his wallet, but you’ve got to start somewhere.

3 thoughts on “NBA 2K18, and How Microtransactions Lost a Customer

  1. I was considering getting 2k18 for the Switch after years of not playing. But hearing about how the VC works is very dissappointing. Despite some performance issues on the Switch, this is a big no no for me. This game without the other editions is still top dollar. In Canada I’d be paying $80 for this brand new, I’d expect not to be constantly reminded that I need to pay to make better progress. Pretty cheap tactic.

      1. oh i didn’t hear about the save files. I did hear the cut scenes in career mode or whatever it is called run at 10fps and the audio goes way out of sync. What’s worse is you can’t skip these.

        Clearly there’s some optimization needed for the Switch version of 2k18. Maybe they were being too ambitious, and EA’s decision to not include story mode in Fifa on Switch had some merit now that i see this?

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